It's not a reason a religious person wants for gathering with other adherents: meeting to talk about attacks on your faith, about 170 years of religious persecution including recent actions against the faith. Nine area followers of the Baha'i religion met at a member's house in Sylvania on Tuesday to have a time of devotion and to talk about the very real assaults on Baha'is.
On July 30, an Iranian news agency published several fatwas, or edicts, issued by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's Supreme Leader, including one instructing Iranians to avoid contact with Baha'is, a faith that started in Iran—Persia at the time of the religion's origin there, in 1844—a faith that had already been banned by the government of Iran, a Muslim country. The seven members of the administrative body of the Iranian Baha'is, called the Yaran, have been in prison there for five years.
'There’s a long history of persecution since the inception of the Baha’i faith.’
- Susan Modarai of Sylvania
A renewed emphasis on Iranians shunning people of the Baha'i faith, in addition to ongoing persecution, raises concerns of Baha'is far from Iran, including in Sylvania. “To see a leader of a large religious organization, such as Shia Islam … to come up with such a statement, it was a shock,” said Behrooz Modarai, 72, of Sylvania. He said this comes after Baha'i students had been banned from schools, Baha'i employees of government and private companies were fired and their property confiscated, and the faith's shrines were destroyed: the house of the Bab in 1979 (the Bab was their prophesied teacher who was the originator of the faith in 1844 in Shiraz, Iran), and, in July in Baghdad, Iraq, the house of Bah'u'llah when he, considered the great teacher who also continued the Bab's teachings, was in exile there for 10 years.
“There's a long history of persecution since the inception of the Baha'i faith 170 years ago,” said Susan Modarai, 56. “The Baha'is in the land of its birth, but also throughout the Middle East, have been persecuted for the beliefs that there is only one humanity, there really is only one religion, and all the peoples of all the different religions worship the same god.”
With the religious persecution, members of the faith do not fight back with violence. “We have our marching orders from the founder of our faith that we have to return love for hate,” said John Krochmalny, 65, of Sylvania. “We can't get involved in any effort that disunifies whatever unity that exists. Prayer, service to mankind, these are all the benchmarks, mandates, I guess, to the individual believers. Looking at the government of Iran, which is based upon a Shiite brand of Islam, Baha'u'llah was guilty of perhaps heresy, and what does one do with that?”
Christy Besozzi, 62, of Perrysburg, emphasized in an email that "Baha'is do not hate Muslims. Many Iranian Muslims have helped Baha'is. It is not Islam that is at fault, it is the errant leadership inIran that condones this fanaticism."
“I think we should mention that there are actually prophecies in the faith that Iran will be the glorious place someday,” Sue Mounshi, 56, of Toledo, said at the meeting.
“Again,” Shamsi Modarai, 29, said, “as of course at one point there was the Persian Empire.”
“We're not a doomsday sort of group,” Ms. Besozzi said. “We're very much 'glory is coming.'”
“The way that we try to bring awareness is through contacting our representatives in governments around the world, and by contacting the media,” said Susan Modarai. “The injustices that exist will then become manifest to all, to everybody. And at the same time, the Baha'i faith is engaged in community building and up-raising communities that have as their focus service to humanity.”
Joe Gordon, 30, of Toledo, sees some hope in world awareness of the Baha'is. “The faith itself has survived intact, and when the persecutions were at their worst and were at their most dire and murderous, the government had this control over the public opinion and the world was unaware.” With greater awareness and greater global communication, Mr. Gordon said, “We have a small number of actual Baha'is, but the world is our family and the world will be our support because our friends and our family and others will be touched by this.”
“The kingdom of god on earth has been a prophecy of the previous religions, and in the Baha'i faith, Baha'u'llah gives it to our charge to bring that in--but we can't do it alone,” said Mr. Krochmalny.
The Sylvania Baha'is don't have a formal meeting place, though they have a fund eventually to establish a Baha'i center. In Northwest Ohio, Behrooz Modarai said, there are about 40 Baha'is. Their religious observances, including feasts held every 19 days, are open to the public. Information can be found on the Facebook page Baha'is of Sylvania.